What Gillette Can Teach B2B Marketers About Being Bold

It seems like you can’t scroll through social media without seeing some form of criticism or commentary on the new Gillette commercial. The nearly two-minute spot, called, “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be,” digs deep into toxic masculinity. The brand left no stone unturned – including even its own ads from “the good old days” – touching on everything from grade-school bullying to cat-calling and the #MeToo movement.

Of course, campaigns that take a strong position are never safe from criticism. Gillette is seeing outrage from male supremacy groups and talking heads like Piers Morgan, who are calling for a product ban. Others are calling the brand’s bluff, claiming that at the end of the day, they’re doing this simply to make some dough.

Despite the risks, Forrester anticipates that more CMOs will take leaps in their campaign strategies, focusing on divisive topics and current events for inspiration. In its 2019 predictions, the analyst firm noted that CMOs will use “divisions in society to disrupt the market by exploiting weaknesses or unresolved problems within an ecosystem to create value, and use technology, culture, media, creativity and economics as a mode of disruption.”

Tapping into these points of conflict and contention, Forrester notes, will “spark consumer energy.”

Where Are the Brave B2B Marketers?

The case of Gillette and this report got me thinking: Although a number of B2C brands are taking risks with their marketing campaigns, where are the brave B2B marketers?

Research from Salesforce points to some valid concerns. The top three reasons why marketers aren’t delivering purpose-driven campaigns are:

  1. The inherent risk associated with releasing a polarizing message to audiences
  2. The inability to connect values to marketing strategy
  3. Insufficient buy-in

None of these is surprising to me. As someone immersed in marketing day in and day out, I even caught myself sighing and rolling my eyes when I saw the news of the Gillette spot.

Wonderful,” I thought, “another big brand striving to capitalize on the fact that women’s rights are now somehow trendy,” I muttered to myself as I scrolled through the keyboard warriors sharing their feedback on Twitter. (The fact that women’s rights are even considered a trend is problematic, but that’s a post for another time.)

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one having this internal tug-of-war. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that a move like this is necessary, especially while so many companies are still complacent because they don’t want to alienate potential customers and business partners.

Claim Your Values

Brands must now pierce their stakes in the ground and not just say but show what matters to them. What values are central to their culture, and how are these values integrated into the products they create and sell, the campaigns they implement and even the people they hire and partner with?

While there will always be people to question these marketing decisions, there will be more people eager to applaud a brand for taking a stand. Consider this: 63% of consumers say they prefer to buy goods and services from companies that stand for a shared purpose that reflects their personal values and beliefs.

Yes, this is something that we as consumers now inherently want in the brands that we buy from. We not only want brands to stand for something, we want their campaigns and tactics to align with these values and missions. When brands undermine their missions or values, that is when they can fracture relationships.

And as the lines between B2C and B2B continue to blur, these realities will become even more critical to you and your team. After all, your buyers will begin to expect the same dedication to values and beliefs (if they haven’t already). As you develop your brand mission statement and values, you must integrate these values and statements into everything you do. This is certainly a big undertaking, so here are a few quick pointers to help you get started:

Know that it starts at the top. Some companies are hiring Chief Equality Officers or cause-related executives to show that they practice what they preach. Success means having the entire executive team on board, communicating the mission and ensuring that it’s implemented downstream.

Determine which causes and issues resonate with your business. Is there a charity that aligns with your brand values? A cause that hits close to home? This will help you and your team determine what truly matters for your brand and its employees.

Find alignment with your customers. What are they looking for from brands today? What social and environmental issues are top of mind, not just on a national or global scale, but for your target customer base?

Brainstorm a mission statement. Look for parallels between your purpose as a company or solution provider and your purpose as a group of humans. What drives your people? Why do they fulfilled in their professional lives? Why are they loyal to your business and brand? How do you integrate social causes and charitable giving into everything you do?

Understand that there will be a divide. With purpose- and mission-driven marketing, one thing is for sure: If you don’t make someone mad, you’re not making an impact. Keep this in mind as you start to develop ideas and try to get buy-in from your executive team and colleagues. It is a big leap, but it will pay dividends for your brand in the long run. After all, more people cling to brands that have a purpose that goes beyond selling things.

This short list of tasks should help spark some inspiration so you can start to create bold and purposeful campaigns. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.


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